My 13 Favorite Films of 2013

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I’ve already made two lists this year (one with superlatives and one with three films I never need to see again), but I made another one because masochism is the new black.

Here are my 13 Favorite Films from 2013:

13. The Heat | Directed by Paul Feig

The style of comedy that Paul Feig revels in does not particularly appeal to me. Granted, it’s far more appealing than the stylings of, say, Judd Apataow, but still, generally speaking I probably wouldn’t immediately list his as my favorite comedy director. So, it surprised me that when walking out of The Heat I would feel the need to call some doctor or something because I had laughed so hard and so often during the film I thought I would die. I don’t usually see movies in the theaters more than once, but I saw it twice. And it was still funny. It’s kind of cool that Paul Feig has been able to make two very good movies about female friendship. It certainly helps that his arsenal of leads is so strong. Bullock letting loose (or not, really) was fun again and Melissa McCarthy delivered as usual. The nice thing about their characters, two lady cops who play by very different rules, was that they stuck their their guns when they needed to.

12. NOAH | Directed by Walter Woodman and Patrick Cederberg

At any given moment, I have, probably, a dozen tabs open on Google Chrome. My mind races and jumps from thing to thing. My eye darts from one article to a picture, one gif to a review, etc. The short film NOAH captures that ability to, er, multitask, and then subsequently focus on one thing, with great aplomb. Taking place entirely on digital screens, the break up story is notable for its narrative platform: a desktop, primarily. This in and of itself isn’t that interesting, but how the directors are able to use this to their advantage is what makes NOAH work. Through what is shown on the desktop, you start to understand the mentality of the character, and possibly, with some presumption, the generation’s follies with communication.

11. Side Effects | Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Soderbergh caims that his last several films have been “for fun” and that the last serious film he made was Che. If we think about that in respect to one of the greatest DIY filmmakers of all time, we can think of his last few films as experiments in form and experients in money. They’ve been pretty low budget, played with how one uses a camera to tell the story, and plays with the idea of finance in contemporary culture. Side Effects does this and works with the genre bending that Soderbergh has also been playing with lately, this time with pulpy, Hitchcockian noir. (Yeah, I used “Hitchcockian” twice in this write up, I’m sorry.) Part of the plot is entirely predictable, but that may be the point. We think we know better than the doctors/directors. So Soderbergh gives us what we want in a strange, salacious twist. Though it would have been nice if it had been a larger examination on mental illness within society, there’s still a lot of pill and grace in the film.

Stoker India

10. Stoker | Directed by Park Chan-wook

I have come to the conclusion that Park Chan-wook is a bit of a campy stylist. He adores the composition of the image, the flow of the sequence, the fluidity from shot to shot. He allows his wicked, and slightly sinister, sense of humor to seep in to all of his films. Stoker is sort of campy and pulpy in its strange way of depicting a young woman coming of age, but the film is told with such visual panache that its narrative weaknesses don’t matter terribly. It’s best taken as a perverse Hitchcockian riff, one that inverts its core inspiration Shadow of a Doubt. Kidman is dark, Goode is charmingly menacing, and Wasikowska expertly oscillates between innocence and deadliness. It’s gorgeous to watch, and fun to realize when something wicked this way comes.

9. Laurence Anyways | Directed by Xavier Dolan

To be quite frank, I’m starting to resent the Quebecois wunderkind, who was just 18 when he made his directorial debut with I Killed My Mother (an intensely personal film for me). So, his third film may not be my favorite (I’m a fan of his sophomore effort Heartbeats), but it may be his very best. The film isn’t so much about Laurence’s (Melvil Poupaud) dysmorphia and subsequent transition to living as a woman, or not merely about that, but Dolan, so good at cutting to the core of things, focuses his film on the relationship between Laurence and her on again off again lover Fred (Suzanne Clement). Their complex relationship is told with gusto, emotion so raw and revealing that it tears into your heart. Fantastic performances are given by the leads and Dolan’s proclivity towards what is derisively described as “art house aesthetic” isn’t as distracting here as it is his previous films. Laurence Anyways is savage beauty.

8. We Are the Best! | Directed by Lukas Moodysson

For the first time in years, I walked into this film knowing absolutely nothing about it other than its title, which meant pretty much nothing to me. I couldn’t have made a better choice. Moodysson’s clever, wonderful love letter to punk philosophy and youth overwhelms one with its charm. The three leads light up the screen in a way I literally did not know was possible. Who knew I’d be blinded by the sheer joy this film has to offer, besides its complex emotions and superb soundtrack? It feels rather unfair to just label the film a “love letter”, reductive, even, but it is filled with warmth and joy. These girls may hate the sport, but I certainly love the film.

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7. Much Ado About Nothing | Directed by Joss Whedon

I wholeheartedly blame all my expectations and subsequent failings in love and relationships on William Shakespeare and screwball comedies of the 1930s. Where else will you find the sparkling verbal jabs, the wonderful witticisms, and incomparably zany slapstick humor, and the ridiculous comedies of error? Not in reality, no sir. It is with pleasure, then, that I saw that Whedon’s DIY-ish adaptation of one of my two favorite comedies by the Bard embodies the best qualities of both. Its free and fun feel and dazzling (Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof) give a nice contemporary, yet timeless, atmosphere to the film. It’s certainly one of the nicer, more pleasant, less overbearing Shakespeare adaptations, one that embraces the language and likes to play with the gender dynamics of the play. Sigh no more, ladies and gentlemen, Whedon’s Much Ado is positively delightful.

6. The Act of Killing | Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer’s revelatory dock is a nightmare, but in a good way. It is one that bends the lines of fiction and reality, influence and homage, recreation and revisionism to its limits. Coming Herzog and Morris approved, one can’t really imagine how unsettling the documentary is until one actually sees it. Listening to the gangsters in office in Indonesia describe with enthusiasm how they eradicated anyone they thought were Communists (basically anyone they wanted to) is one thing; watching them recreate their killings is another. It is deeply disconcerting listening to these men talk about the influence American gangster movies and film noir had on them, opening up an unpleasant grey area of how much impact cinema, and the media in general, does have on our actions. Many of the recreated government sanctioned murders are shot as if they thought Billy Wilder or Howard Hawks were behind the camera: seedy atmosphere, chiaroscuro lighting, the costumes reminiscent of something Bogart would wear. Even more unpleasant, the documentary looks at what we, the audience, does and feels. Our moral compass is thrown into the air for a couple of hours, and we’re asked about how we feel about humanity at its core. When is something just an act and when is something irrevocably real?

5. Blue Jasmine | Directed by Woody Allen

As someone who managed to watch every single feature film Woody Allen has directed over the last two years, it’s always a pleasant surprise when the director of 40+ films who has been working what I estimate as five decades can prove his worth time and again. As skilled as Woody Allen is for directing his latest Blue Jasmine, for his depiction of a woman past the verge of a nervous breakdown and very much under the influence, it would be fair to say that it becomes primarily Cate Blanchett’s film. Not to say Allen isn’t there, oh he is, but Blanchett is the one who sells the film and makes it as superb as it is, with her Blanche Dubois-esque role. The closest Allen has ever gotten to making a horror film (Match point notwithstanding), Blue Jasmine peels away at the sanity of its lead bit by bit, with Blanchett showing levels of nuance rarely seen on the screen. Her eyes bleed depression, her forehead and underarms sweat anxiety, and her tone of voice oozes contempt (for herself) and deep sadness. By the time we find her at the end, she might as well have nothing left in her life other than the fading memory of that tune she heard long ago, “Blue Moon”.

Before Midnight

4. Before Midnight| Directed by Richard Linklater

Eighteen years later and we are still completely enamored of Celine and Jesse’s intimate romance. And though the two show wear and tear after the sun set nine years prior, they are, like the audience to Linklater’s celebrated trilogy (?), still in it for the long run. Traversing the beautiful landscape of Greece and playing with time and space, as Linklater likes to do, it isn’t that Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke have never been more beguiling or honest than their previous walkabouts, it isn’t even that we haven’t experienced what they do in this film before; what Before Midnight seems to be is a film absolutely perfect for the audiences that have matured with the couple and (probably) going through some of the same things. Once again, the three of them, Delpy, Hawke, and Linklater, continue to take us on a journey where the sun and moon dance together, and love is, in one way or another, all around.

3. Spring Breakers | Directed by Harmony Korine

There are times when Spring Breakers is so ambiguous and so unwavering in its unwillingness to completely revealing what it is saying that you get the impression that Harmony Korine is laughing with blood in his mouth. To be quite honest, I couldn’t have asked for anything more. From its almost literally intoxicating cinematography to its sonic-like editing, Spring Breakers is Korine’s masterpiece, one that feels at once carefully calculated in its composition and yet gloriously unhinged and improvisational. It is an undeniably impressive work, both filled with mirth and mirthless, a mirror Korine gladly holds up to the New Lost Generation. It doesn’t lecture, exactly, but the contempt that is there is interesting. It’s no different than what he did as a kid (see: Gummo) and yet it is. A film filled with fascinating paradoxes, it’s also the best film ti invert the Male Gaze in ages, a triumph in its appropriation of disturbed gender politics. Spring Breakers is a neon neon soaked, LSD driven, music propelled Gen-Y nightmare. IN the best way possible.

2. Frances Ha | Directed by Noah Baumbach

How can such an incredibly sad film be so delightful? No, really, I’m asking you, because I have no idea. Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s careful character study of a woman lost in Neew York sounds kind of insufferable, in the same way that I find Tiny Furniture something I would only watch again with a gun to my head (not to use “hipster” as a pejorative, mind you). Frances Ha, though, is not that. It is, in fact, a film that uses its inherent melancholy not to bully or laugh at its eponymous character, played with the radiant glow of Gerwig, who wrote it with Baumbach, but to illuminate those feelings of being adrift and unsure of oneself. It feels like you’re watching a soul in a film as it is about to be liberated. Perhaps its greatest feat is its balancing act: part Generation X story, part New York comedy (in the vein of Whit Stillman and Woody Allen), part Nouvelle Vague homage. The beautiful thing about it is that, to me, none of it feels calculated or contrived. It feels like it just simply exists, wholly in and of itself. And having watched it fourteen times since I bought the Criterion Blu-ray (which all of you should totally buy) and twice in theaters, it feels magical each time. It’s like magic.

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1. Her | Directed by Spike Jonze

It was a little ironic that towards the front and to the far left of the theater, a bright LCD screen would pop on for a few brief seconds and then turn off. It was ironic that someone, basically, had the gall to check their phone during Her, Spike Jonze’s newest film depicting the romance between a man and his operating system. Normally, Jonze’s concept for the film would generally be one that comments very negatively on our relationship with technology. But when Jonze has the chance and opportunity to give us a high concept social commentary on that, he tucks it away, drenching the film and the audience in the pure sincerity of its characters. He legitimizes the pain, the intangibility, and the pure emotion. What more could you possibly ask of a film?

The Rest of the Best (In Alphabetical Order)

  • Bastards | Directed by Claire Denis
  • Behind the Candelabra | Directed by Steven Soderbergh
  • Computer Chess | Directed by Andrew Bujalski
  • Drug War | Directed by Johnnie To
  • Enough Said | Directed by Nicole Holfcener
  • Il Futuro | Directed by Alicia Scherson
  • In a World… | Directed by Lake Bell
  • Pain and Gain | Directed by Michael Bay <— (Yes, you read that correctly)
  • The East | Directed by Zal Batmangjli
  • Viola | Directed by Matías Piñeiro
  • You’re Next | Directed by Adam Wingard

The Disappointments (Yet Still of Some Interest/Curiosity)

Ugh, The Worst

Oh God, Why?!

  • Movie 43 | Directed by Et al.
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7 thoughts on “My 13 Favorite Films of 2013

    Katy Rochelle said:
    December 31, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    Wonderful list! Definitely a lot of picks I’m inclined to check out in the new year. I love your choice for Frances Ha – it’s such a superb delightful film and performance that is ebbed with quite a bit of sadness.

      Kyle Turner responded:
      January 3, 2014 at 5:24 am

      Thanks so much! My friend Joe described Frances Ha as blanket. Incredibly warm.

    Racine England (@veXpoet) said:
    January 1, 2014 at 12:36 am

    What is this implication that you “chose” to see We Are The Best I am the cool smart one who knew about it

      Kyle Turner responded:
      January 3, 2014 at 5:23 am

      Yeah, but it was *my* choice not to Google it and watch the trailer or read the synopsis. And I’m glad I went in blind and I’m glad you brought me.

    Alex Withrow said:
    January 5, 2014 at 11:16 pm

    Great list here my friend. LOVE that Her is tops. I loved the hell out of that film. Had no idea you disliked Fruitvale so much though. I’d love to hear why. Too manipulative?

      Kyle Turner responded:
      January 7, 2014 at 9:48 pm

      Thanks, man! HER is just plain wonderful.

      I actually mostly disliked FRUITVALE because I found it dull and unnecessary. It didn’t feel all that compelling to me. Yes, it was manipulative, but it also bored me. And that may be a worse offense, in my opinion.

    My 14 Favorite Films of 2014 « The Movie Scene said:
    December 31, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    […] I had this on my best of list last year. But, hey, it’s that good. Still a wonderfully good time, the film’s spirit is incomparable, […]

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